The Benefits of Space Exploration

 

Mankind has always had an interest in exploring and discovering new things; this interest has spanned oceans, lands, and vast seas of stars and planets. From the very first mention of astronomy in ancient Babylon to the current race to Mars, space exploration has always been a fascination of the human race. In ancient times, astronomy was used to track seasons, predict future events, and in some cases, architecture. But, today mankind doesn’t just stand on earth and study the stars, they can now travel to the stars. With NASA and private companies such as Mars One, planning a manned mission to Mars within the next fifteen years, the debate on rather or not to send manned missions into space is a hot one. Some scientists claim manned missions into space are not only a waste of money but a dangerous waste of money and that robots can accomplish the same thing with less money and risk. Other scientists argue that the benefits of colonizing Mars, advancing the human race and the possibility of finding life out there, make the cost and the risk worthwhile.

Safe Travel through Space

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has always played an active role in the advancement of technology. NASA scientists have invented such products as LED lighting, memory foam, artificial limbs, cochlear implants, scratch resistant eyeglass wear, and insulin pumps for diabetic patients (John Jones, Dan Lockney, 2008). While these are all inventions most people are familiar with, they are all offshoots of other inventions meant to send manned missions safely into space.

NASA has been busy for the last fifty years, concentrating more on sending robotic missions into space rather than manned missions. Some of those missions include the Mars rover, the Hubble spacecraft, and the newest mission due to launch on March 12th 2015, Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS); which will study the reconnection of the magnetic field surrounding the Earth (NASA, 2015). However, with the manned mission to Mars on the horizon NASA, Mars One, and Inspiration Mars are now concentrating on safe travel for humans through space.

The first planned trip to Mars is Inspiration Mars, a two manned mission that is to be “… launched on a flight path that takes it looping around the Red Planet and then directly back to Earth” (Henbest, 2013, p. 2. para.2). The most dangerous part of the trip will be reentry when the spacecraft enters Earth’s atmosphere around 50,000 kilometers per hour, faster than any mission before it (Henbest, 2013). To combat the possibility that the astronauts will fry upon reentry, the scientists involved with Inspiration Mars are working with NASA to create a heat shield to surround the spaceship.

NASA is building the Orion capsule to send a manned mission to Mars’s moon, Phobos in 2025, but they lack a detailed plan (Henbest, 2013). The intent is to overview a robotically built planetary base on Mars with the astronauts due to fly there in 2031. However, by 2031, NASA may already be behind the Mars One mission, which plans on landing humans on Mars by 2025.

Bas Lansdorp and Arno Wielders, the founders of Mars One, have plans to colonize Mars by 2025. The flight to Mars will last four to six months, and the astronauts will never return to Earth (Henbest, 2013).  The largest dangers to the human body from spending so much time in space are muscle atrophy, bone density loss, and radiation damage from both just being in space, and from the sun (Henbest, 2013). Solar radiation (radiation from the sun) is much harder to shield against than the radiation that naturally exist in space. In order to protect the Astronauts on board the Mars One mission, Lansdorp has invented a spaceship that will have “… several thousand liters of water filling a hollow shell around the crews sleeping compartment” (Henbest, 2013, p. 3.para.12). As the best protection against solar radiation is organic matter, not heavy lead shields. As the first human colonization of another planet, Mars One will also face unique situations when they land on Mars.

Safely Living On Mars

Life on Mars will vary from life on Earth in many ways. The lighting on Mars varies from an amber color to a gray color, temperature varies from -225 degrees to 64 degrees Fahrenheit, the atmosphere is made up of primarily carbon dioxide (95%) and unpredictable dust storms that can be miles long and last for days can wreak havoc on infrastructures. Gravity on Mars is about a third of what it is on Earth and days are about thirty-nine minutes longer (Henbest, 2013). So, how will humans survive and prosper in such harsh conditions?

The dust present in the Martin atmosphere causes the sunsets and sunrises to have an opposite effect on what occurs on Earth; “… instead of our blue-sky with pinkish/red effects around the sun, Mars presents pinkish-red sunsets/sunrises with touches of blue in the vicinity of the Sun” (Discovery Channel, 2015, p. 1.para.7). Days and twilights will last longer, and astronauts will have to adjust to the longer days by wearing special watches designed to keep Martian time (Discovery Channel, 2015).

Since the gravity on Mars is 38% of the value of Earth, exercise, and special precaution will have to be taken to prevent muscle atrophy and bone density loss. Astronauts will carry exercise equipment with them to the Red planet, and they will need to develop a way to walk on Mars, such as the bunny hop the astronauts used on the Moon (Discovery Channel, 2015). “The effects of gravity on humans and living organism are not fully understood and need further study. Results to date have shown a profound effect on the health of humans. Thus, new methodologies and technologies need to be developed to keep humans healthy and productive and grow crops in this environment” (Krishen, 2009, p. 231. para.6). While the production of plants on Mars can be accomplished through hydroponics and artificial lighting; how will the first astronauts to Mars produce enough water to survive?

The first unmanned mission to Mars is a demonstration mission and it is set to prove the technologies needed to colonize Mars (Mars One, 2014). The Mars One probe, as it is being called, is charged with setting up a direct line of sight between Earth and Mars so the camera and satellite can communicate with Earth and so Earth can have a live feed of Mars 365 days a year (Mars One, 2014). It is also responsible for settling on a spot where water can be extracted from the Martian soil and for testing a variety of thin film solar panels, both experiments will prove the feasibility of human colonization on Mars (Mars One, 2014). Scientist believes that just under the topsoil of Mars is a thin layer of ice, and the Mars One probe will utilize that ice to make water for the human colony.

Human Verses Robot

Traditionally, robots are used in lieu of persons. They are sent on missions too dangerous or inaccessible to people, and the purpose has always been to prepare the way for humans. However, with the cost of one person being sent to Mars around 50 billion per; some scientist argues that it is too expensive and too dangerous to send humans to live on Mars. They believe robots can accomplish the same goals at a percentage of the cost and with no life lost (Discovery Channel, 2015).

The argument for robot versus human is a vast and highly complex case. Some of the reasons these scientists believe robot only missions would be best including; eliminating the risk of human error, eliminating the need for psychosocial and psychological evaluations, elimination of long-term health effects on humans, and the cost of sending robots to Mars is exponentially lower than manned missions plus return trips are not needed (Discovery Channel, 2015).

However, robots are not as independent or as functional as humans. They require constant supervision and direction from humans; if they are out of communication with Earth, they just sit and wait for further instruction (Discovery Channel, 2015). Whereas, humans can perform tasks and still maintain the mission if communications with ground control are lost (Discovery Channel, 2015). Humans can make independent decisions and do not require constant supervision.

The cost of sending humans into space is extraordinary, whereas the cost of sending robots is dependent upon the technologies used on that robot. “Humans are bulky, fragile and expensive to maintain” (Discovery Channel, 2015, p. 1. table 1. section 6.). Robots, on the other hand, are economical, expandable, and they don’t need supplies. However, some scientist would argue that “… the scientific gains of one human mission would be worth that of ten robot only missions” (Discovery Channel, 2015) as humans can continue advancing technologies and exploring space without direct instructions.

Conclusion

Although some scientists say that human space exploration is both a dangerous risk to our astronauts and a waste of money, the thought of exploring space has always been a fascination of mankind. From the very beginning of history, we see evidence of mapping of the planets, galaxies, and stars. Mankind will always want to travel beyond and reach higher than the moon, with the new plans to colonize Mars, mankind may soon have the answer to rather or not there is life out there.

References

Discovery Channel. (2015). Life on Mars: A travel brochure for the Red Planet. Retrieved from Discovery Channel: http://www.racetomars.ca/mars/article_life_mars.jsp

Discovery Channel. (2015). Robots Versus Astronaunts. Retrieved from Discovery Channel: http://www.racetomars.ca/mars/article_robots.jsp

Henbest, N. (2013, July 13). Life on Mars. New Scientist, 219(2925), 02. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=22&sid=91b75b80-1667-43e0-a8be-6423b27e11db%40sessionmgr4003&hid=4207&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPWlwLGNwaWQmY3VzdGlkPXM4ODU2ODk3JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=89031951

John Jones, Dan Lockney. (2008). NASA Technologies Benefit Our Lives. Retrieved from Spinoff: http://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2008/tech_benefits.html

Krishen, K. (2009). Technology Needs for Future Space Exploration. IETE Technical Review, 26(4), 228-235. Retrieved Febuary 20, 2015, from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/eds/detail/detail?sid=d72ca07d-98eb-4639-acbe-cba0fc0b65e3%40sessionmgr112&vid=2&hid=104&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#db=aph&AN=56440910

Mars One. (2014, Febfuary). Mars One – First Private Mars Mission in 2018. Retrieved from Indie Go Go: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/mars-one-first-private-mars-mission-in-2018#2018

NASA. (2015). Magnetospheric Multiscale. NASA. NASA. Retrieved from http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mms/index.html#.VP3G7vnF848

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Author: harmony_loves_exploring

Anthropologist, with minors in Sociology and Psychology, traveler, and writer. Mom! In true love!

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